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Danielle Prescod
By Danielle Prescod

Ok, I’ll say it first: I miss my friends. After over a year spent in relative social isolation, human connection is decidedly lacking across the collective consciousness. Still, if this is the worst problem you have, it’s really not a bad one. Things like being healthy or having a home and gainful employment are all elements of life to be celebrated but in the absence of both travel and genuine human connection, I know that, even if we have all of those things, most of us are feeling like something is...missing.

If I’ve learned anything in the last year and half, though, it’s that making the best of a situation is one of our most critical survival skills. So, how does one maintain a positive attitude with limited resources? It’s simple, you work with what you’ve got. Necessity is the catalyst of innovation as they say.

When the travel industry came to a screeching halt last March, many of us got whiplash from the realization that we were all, well, stuck at home. If you managed to stay alive and healthy, it very much felt like being grounded except all your friends were grounded as well. And like a teenager, some of us started looking for creative ways to bend the rules.

As flights were out of the question, many people started exploring a classic American pastime. No not baseball. Road trips. And before you go ahead and declare yourself to be “ahead of a trend” or whatever because you’ve always liked road trips or something, it doesn’t matter because you were decidedly in a minority. Some people get off on that level of staunch unpopularity but the reality is that air travel made vacations more luxurious and exotic. You could actually put yourself in a new time zone, on a different day entirely if you wanted to. You could be in the clouds. That’s magical! And something that ended up eclipsing the magic of automobile travel, which became quite passé. Another factor is that kind of magic never comes cheap. Air travel is quite literally expensive and the environmental consequences of frequent fliers are not small either. But without this option, the quintessential road trip had a resurgence.


Dark road through the woods


For a long time, I was all about the destination and definitely not the journey. I wanted to get wherever I was going to in the most direct way possible and spend the shortest time on the voyage as was feasible. However, suddenly, with nothing to do and nothing to rush back to, a journey that stretched out for hours or perhaps days became increasingly more appealing.

The first road trip I took last year was from NYC to Cape Cod, where a friend had generously offered to shelter my sister and me at her family’s summer house. Though this was a hugely lucky break, I would have been just as content to do something even half as glamorous because the cabin fever was that real.

Having had limited to no road trip experience though, we did a slight amount of research beforehand and that, coupled with a few life lessons that only come from jumping into the deep end of an adventure, has led to me to provide this unofficial guide to domestic North American road tripping.

I want to present some caveats before we get into the nitty-gritty of these tips. The first is that, like I said, I was never someone who understood the appeal of the open road so I am somewhat of a reluctant road trip convert. Secondly, as a Black woman, I have no illusions about safety or that the idea of “packing up and going” is a privilege for a certain percentage of the population. To that end, I am not too keen on buckling up to bounce along a scenic route never intended to carry me. Hollywood films, television and classic literature somewhat convinced me that road trips were limited to opportunities for white men to find themselves (a la On The Road), or white women to lose themselves (a la Thelma And Louise), or for white families to bond over zany disasters (a la National Lampoon’s Family Vacation or Little Miss Sunshine). For a lot of people of color, speeding head first into the unknown of the American landscape is not a no-brainer type of activity. You can never be really sure what to expect, but I would start by doing sufficient research on any destination you plan on driving to or through. This is simply a safety concern that, like wearing a seatbelt, you won’t regret. So all of that said, here’s how I recommend embarking enthusiastically on the greatest road trip of your life.

  1. Have Realistic Expectations And A Strategy: Driving is kind of hard. It requires a lot of attention and focus and if you have trouble navigating on foot, the road will present even more a challenge. Make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew by planning a road trip that encompasses complex routes or multiple attractions. Like with anything new, when just starting out, start small. A three-hour road trip can take you pretty far and a change of scenery, no matter how close in proximity, can do wonders for lifting your mood. Start by researching more local destinations. When you’ve gotten good, you can add on more challenges and before you know it, you’ll be en route from Detroit to Tampa ready for trouble like the ladies in Zola.
  2. Find A Buddy: Frankly, we’ve all spent way too much time alone. If you are single, grab a friend and if you are partnered, also grab a friend because chances are a road trip has a 50/50 chance of ruining your relationship if it’s already in a fragile spot. If you feel like you and your partner can take on the road, by all means, go for it! But, if you need some time apart, this is a perfect way to solidify some platonic relationships. The buddy road trip is a tried and true exploit, celebrated amongst the most legendary pairings ever. I do almost all my road trips with my sister. We have found the perfect equilibrium to balance between bondering and bickering and fortunately unconditional love and genetic ties keep us from sororicide.
  3. Learn About Your Car: I am the first to admit that I am very literally inept as a driver. I have little to no experience with cars and I don’t really care to either. On a road trip though, this is not really an option. You need to know very basic things about the car you’re driving, especially if it is a rental. Before you speed off into the sunset, check things like which side of the car the gas tank is on, what indicator lights mean what, and how and who to call for help if you need it. Doing this ahead of time will help you to avoid trying to learn how to put a cloth cover back on a Jeep on YouTube in the rain.
  4. Budget: A road trip is just like any other trip and though the mechanics of it do make it more “affordable”, things start to add up after a while. Have solid parameters in mind for what you are and aren’t willing to spend money on. If you don’t already have a car, factor in rental fees and gas. If you do already have a car, make sure you know where you’re going to stop along the way for food so you don’t end up hangry and famished willing to pay anything for a stale donut. This kind of planning is best left to the more type-A party in your road trip crew. In my case, that’s me.
  5. Relax: Easier said than done, trust me, I know! But road tripping at its core is about two things: fun and escape. Allow yourself the opportunity to feel these things. Don’t go 90 mph on the interstate or anything, but roll the windows down and blast Doja Cat. Enjoy your time out of your house and take cute videos of things you find inspiring. It’s really your chance to shake loose some stagnant energy and find some joy. Don’t make it about anything else.

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